Pandemic has exacerbated inequality in photography industry, report says

A new report on the State of the Photography Industry, funded by the Knight Foundation and Catchlight, surveyed more than 1,000 people in 87 countries to try to better understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on photographers. Among its key findings is that existing financial insecurity has been exacerbated by the pandemic, with almost a third of women identifying respondents experiencing a significant loss of income. Huge disparities in access to work, income and health care have been reported, and racism and sexism are seen by most as persistent problems on the ground.

Significant wage inequalities persist, the report says. Marginalized groups—including women and non-binary photographers as well as photographers of color—revealed they had a median income of between $20,000 and $29,999, while those who did not identify as marginalized recorded median earnings ranging from $40,000 to $49,999.

An even larger gap emerged between photographers from non-Western and Western countries: while the median earnings of the former were between $40,000 and $49,999, the latter reported median earnings of $10,000 to $19 $999.

The State of Photography report revealed vast income disparities. (all screenshots Jasmine Liu/Hyperallergic)

The report claims it is “the first international study of photographers that specifically seeks to understand more deeply the experiences of image-makers from historically marginalized communities.” It is a sequel to the Field survey on the visual storytellerresearch conducted in 2020 by some of the same authors of this report.

“We really wanted to do a much larger international survey that asked a lot of questions about what it means to work in photography today,” photojournalist and visual media consultant Tara Pixley, author of both reports, told Hyperallergic. “What are the main problems? What are the obstacles to success and the barriers to entry? What is the demographic makeup of the area? Pixley added that another goal of the 2022 survey was to open up the scope beyond just news photography to encapsulate the industry as a whole.

Health insurance and benefits were also concerns.

Whites are the dominant racial category represented in the survey, making up 47.3% of the group. Overall, non-white photographers said they faced greater precariousness. Black respondents were almost seven times more likely than white respondents to lack health insurance, for example, representing a significant and unequal barrier to entry into the field. The survey also shows that black and Latino respondents were significantly more concerned about their ability to afford housing.

More than half of the photographers surveyed said they had “high” to “moderate” debt.

Women and non-binary photographers have been disproportionately impacted by the stress of the pandemic, with 46% saying they questioned whether staying in visual media was worth it from a financial perspective. Beyond the financial downsides of the pandemic, they cited the lack of diversity in the industry as a reason they were considering leaving.

“The industry continued to be very expensive to get into and yet the pay actually went down over time,” Pixley said.

Sexism and racism have been identified as persistent problems on the ground.

She hopes the survey results will contribute to changes in the way work is structured in the industry. One suggestion she offers is for editorials and commissioning agencies to pay half the rate upfront, as freelancers’ payment terms can last longer than two or three months, often adding to the debts of freelancers. photographers in the meantime.

Finally, Pixley noted that much of the work undertaken to build community and push for change in the historically white and historically male industry — such as the work she has taken on over the past two years — is not paid.

“Building community and enabling photo editors and curators to find black women photographers, women of color, Indigenous photographers – we do this work for free,” she said. “We build these communities on our backs. The industry must compensate and recognize the value of this work.

Stewart C. Hartline